During the 2019-2020 academic year, Wellesley College student and Davis Scholar Ninotska Love ’20 was awarded the Class of 1967 Internship through the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She was paired with WCW Senior Research Scientist Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., as her mentor. Throughout the academic year, Dr. Robeson guided Ninotska through the development, implementation, and analysis of an independent research project on stereotype threat among transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students. In this video, Megan Cassidy, director of marketing and communications at WCW, interviews the pair about their experience. The transcript of their conversation below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Megan Cassidy: Hi, I'm Megan Cassidy, I'm the director of marketing and communications at the Wellesley Centers for Women. And I'm here with Wendy and Ninotska today to talk about the internship Ninotska did at the Wellesley Centers for Women this year. So Ninotska, can you introduce yourself, please?
Ninotska Love: Absolutely. Good morning everyone. My name is Ninotska Love. I am a class of 2020 Davis Scholar, and I worked with Dr. Wendy Robeson over the academic year of 2019 to 2020.
Wendy Robeson: And I'm Wendy Robeson. I greet everyone from Cheever House here at Wellesley College, and my focus is on childcare and childcare policy, but, as you will learn, my interns can do anything they wish.
MC: So Ninotska, can you tell us about what you decided to study while you were working with Wendy?
NL: I think during the spring of 2018, I worked with one of my professors regarding stereotype threat, and I was very interested in that. I wished to continue pursuing that further because I wanted to have statistics on it. When I attended the meeting about WCW internships, Wendy said, Oh, I'm studying children and you can choose anything you like. And I thought this is the perfect opportunity for me to do this further. So my topic of interest is stereotype threat on trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming people. I think it was the perfect opportunity for me and also as a transgender woman, this is a topic I would like to continue pursuing further.
MC: Can you tell us a little bit about what you found in the research that you've been doing so far?
NL: There were definitely a couple of preconceived notions of what I thought I would find. The data correlated that in terms of the anxiety that individuals who identify as trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming may have in order to fulfill the expectations that society has about them and their performance of their gender.
I was able to do a survey at Wellesley College and I have 166 responses. Throughout the questions, and the survey, and also through one-to-one conversations I was able to see that, not everyone, but the people who identify as trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming because of course from the data, not everyone identifies as such at Wellesley. There are students who identify as cisgender women and therefore they were not affected at all. They didn't have the notion of anxiety, and if they did have that anxiety, it was a different kind of anxiety than the one individuals in the transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming community may have had.
MC: Can both of you now talk a little bit about the internship process and how you worked together to go from the initial idea to the final project?
WR: I look for a student who has a passion for a particular subject, and I think that if they follow their passion and what they really, really want to understand in greater depth, that is the person who would make the best intern. So on that day, I had someone come running up to my table, smiling and full of passion, and I thought, my gosh, I want this student. And luckily it turned out that Ninotska was my student. And what we do is we meet, and we have been meeting weekly. We go over ideas because we know it's only an academic year. It's not a five-year project, it's just one academic year. So you cannot study everything you want, but you follow your passion, you come up with the questions you want to have answers to.
I had such a wonderful student who was able to do a literature review, make her own survey, administer the survey, follow through with other students, and do individualized interviews. So we're talking a lot of data collection, a lot of analysis, a lot of thought went into the paper that she wrote, and it was just excellent. The only thing that I wish we could have done was a Ruhlman Conference because I know you would have shined. You would have been wonderful. And I'm just sorry that we didn't get to do that.
MC: How does your work with students, like Ninotska benefit the work that you do at the Centers?
WR: As I said, I do work in childcare policy, so you might think it's kind of different, but all my interns have greatly influenced me. They have had me explore different avenues of research. I have learned so much from my interns that I am just a better person for having Ninotska in my life. And maybe I will not apply what she has learned from her research this year directly, but it's going to affect me indirectly. And one thing I need to emphasize is that once my intern does her work and her presentation, she has not left my life. So my interns become my colleagues. So you're no longer a student for me. You're a colleague. And I have people stay with me forever, which I really am grateful for.
MC: Thank you. Ninotska, now that you've done this internship, do you think it helped you as you think about what's next, what you're going to do after Wellesley?
NL: Yeah, absolutely. I've always been very invested in advocating for the transgender and gender-nonconforming community. Over the past few years, I've been doing so, definitely. I had this opportunity to work in New York City, which was pretty related. I think this work is very important to further understand what these people are going through, not only at that particular stage of their life, but to better understand them at a later stage. So that's very applicable in my opinion.
Also, I'm very grateful to Wendy. She allowed me to study youth even though she's very concentrated on children. I thought about first doing this study for children, but since my data collection was only for Wellesley students, I was thinking about what they went through or faced in middle and high school and how they feel now that they are a college student.
MC: Ninotska is there anything that you'd say to Wellesley students who are thinking about doing an internship with the Wellesley Centers for Women?
NL: This has been a very amazing opportunity. Not only I'm grateful because Wendy has been extremely understanding, I mean we're humans, right? I went through a couple of issues throughout that time. She was very understanding. I've always tried to put the work for her when I needed to and I shared what I had to. She helped me with the collection of data, meaning creating the survey and making sure the questions were right. We went through this whole process of getting the signatures from students about the nondisclosure, about sharing their personal information.
She was definitely a very essential part of this opportunity. So I wouldn't have been able to do this without her help. I think for anyone who is thinking and considering the internship program, this is going to be a great deal of exposure for anything they want to do after in their careers. I think my research skills have definitely improved by working at the Wellesley Centers for Women.
MC: Thank you both so much. I think this was really great to hear about your project and to hear about the work you did all year. I think other people are going to be really excited to hear about it, too. Is there anything else that I did not ask about that either of you would want to add?
NL: Something that I would like to add is that besides understanding the anxiety that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people may face, the main reason why I wanted to do this research is that I feel like this could change the personal lives of so many individuals. If this issue gets to be explored further, I think academic institutions may be able to improve that at the school level and across the board in the United States for high schoolers, for people who go to middle school. And I think that will only improve society as a whole.
And the other thing is people are always terrified about applying. And I think I was terrified as well going through the interview, going through the second interview for the internship, but I think you can only have one chance of doing it. So just go ahead, apply, and be yourself. I think at the end of the day, that's the best thing that you can do.
MC: Wendy do you have anything else that you want to say?
WR: I say to future students if you have a passion that you really want to pursue and you have questions you want answered, then the WCW internship is the place to go. You'll get your answers and hopefully, you'll get the mentorship that you need, too.
May 27, 2020